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Dr. Camini Marajh, D.Litt?

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
July 11, 2007

The University of the West Indies (UWI) at St. Augustine has awarded Miss Camini Maharj a Doctor of Letters (D.Litt) degree for a position she does not hold and in a field that does not exist. UWI's website describes Miss Marajh as an "investigations editor" and tells us that she is worthy of one of the most coveted awards any recognized university can confer because she "has reported in depth," not necessarily with distinction, "on a wide range of issues, including crime, the legislature, and the environment in Trinidad and Tobago" over the years.

Miss Maharj has never been an editor of a newspaper. She is an investigative reporter–not an "investigations editor"—and to the best of my knowledge there is no such field as "investigations" journalism. It may sound contradictory, but UWI is intent on granting Ms. Marajh an honorary doctorate in a field that does not exist. Yet, it is not of me to disagree with the wisdom of UWI and its principal.

But, there is a larger issue at stake.

In many parts of the world, an honorary degree is regarded as a serious matter. A "honoris causa" or "a mark of honor," as it is called, it is awarded generally to someone who has made a distinguished contribution to her society and who, by association, is likely to bring a corresponding amount of eminence and distinction to the institution that confers the degree. At Georgetown University in the United States, an honorary degree is regarded as the most significant accolade it bestows upon someone. It is awarded to "distinguished individuals who merit special recognition for genuine achievement and distinction in a field of activity consonant with the mission of the university." Among other things, the recipient of such a degree should be an "eminent" personage in a special field of scholarship, public service, literary achievement, and so on.

In the case of Ms. Marajh, UWI is not too concerned with such criteria. It does not tell us what her body of work is; what constitutes her eminence in journalism; the range of her journalistic experiences; what differentiates her from other journalists; and wherein lays her particular distinction. Certainly, her depth "in a wide range of issues," whatever they are, does not lift her to a level of excellence that warrants the conferral of an honorary doctorate. Nor, for that matter, does it distinguish her from other journalists. She has never been an editor of a newspaper; has no presence outside of T&T; does not edit her own work; has never written a commentary; nor has she involved herself in any capacity other than writing "investigations" reports.

One can better understand Ms. Marajh's limitation if we compare the narrowness of her achievements with those of George John, a former recipient of a UWI honorary degree, who was acclaimed by the region's newspapers as the "Dean of Caribbean journalism." His accomplishments included but were not limited to the following:
  • Instrumental in the formation of the Trinidad Express;

  • Chief Public Relations Officer of Eric Williams, former Prime Minister of T&T;

  • Port of Spain correspondent for the Jamaica Gleaner and later head of the Gleaner's News Bureau in Port of Spain;

  • Relocated to the head office of the Gleaner in Kingston and assigned to cover two election campaigns of Norman Manley in the 1960s;

  • Worked as the Editor of the London Weekly Gleaner in the 1980s;

  • Senior Lecturer in Journalism at the Mona Campus of the University of West Indies;

  • General Manager of the Dominica Broadcasting Company;

  • Member of the Commonwealth Journalist Association;

  • Events analysts with the BBC

  • News analyst for Radio Trinidad and Trinidad and Tobago Television;

  • Analyst at ITV's Super Channel on the British General Elections;

  • Author of Beyond the Frontlines;

  • Wrote for a newspaper in St. Vincent;

  • Debbie Ransome of the BBC Caribbean Service called him "one of the Caribbean's most well–known journalists outside the region."
There are several distinguished T&T journalists upon whom UWI could have conferred this coveted award if it wanted to honor genuine achievement and, in the process, uphold standards of excellence. Three names that grace the hallowed halls of T&T's journalism come to mind:
  • Therese Mills: the first female editor of a national newspaper; a writer of children's books; the founder of Newsday, one of the three most important newspapers in T&T today; the first female chairman and CEO of a media company in T&T;

  • Patrick Chokolingo: the father of investigative journalism in T&T; the person who gave birth to and developed weekly journalism in T&T; the first general manager of the Express; and one of the most dynamic journalists T&T has ever known;

  • Keith Smith: one of the more creative journalists in the country; a walking compendium of the nation's culture who possesses an ability to place such material in a single column several times a week; his elevation and subsequent acceptability of Trinidad's nation language (or dialect) by T&T's public through his columns; drawing greater attention to the steel band and calypso by writing about them and giving them a prominent place in the newspaper he edits;
It is unfortunate that Ms. Marajh's name should be mentioned in the same breath as the other recipients of this year's award:
  • Chinua Achebe: the virtual innovator of the modern African novel; author of several novels including Things Fall Apart (1958); No Longer at Ease (1960); Arrow of God (1964); A Man of the People (1966); Anthills of the Savannah (1987); and Hopes and Impediments (1988), a book of essays; winner of the 2007 Man Booker International Prize for Fiction; a perennial contender for the Nobel Prize in Literature; taught at several universities in Nigeria and the United States;

  • Justice Desiree Patricia Bernard: the first female judge of the Caribbean Court of Justice; first female Chief Justice of Guyana; served as a member of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women; a member of the International Association of Women's Judges; Vice President of the International Federation of Women's Lawyers; a member of the Caribbean Council of Legal Education; and a member of the Caribbean Bar Association;

  • Vera Baney, a ceramic artist and sculptor who has exhibited in Canada, the United Kingdom, T&T, USA and Yugoslavia.
These are the persons with whom Ms. Marajh is being honored. We are asked to believe that she represents the best and brightest that can be found in T&T and the Caribbean. By inference we are told that we ought not to be worried by the dumbing down of criteria when it comes to selecting someone for this prestigious honor; someone who pales in comparison with the persons I have suggested.

Several charges of racism, favoritism, the manipulation and/or reduction of standards are being brought against the UWI. I don't know if it is fair to say that things have deteriorated since Dr. Bhoe Tewarie assumed the leadership of UWI. It is certainly true that Ms. Marajh does not meet the "mark of honor," nor does she display the qualities of excellence and distinction that one requires of a recipient of a UWI Doctor of Letters. And that is a shame.

Dr. Tewarie and his committee may be unable to reconsider the conferral of a D.Litt on Ms. Maharj. However, they should know that such a gesture lowers the esteem of the university in the eyes of those who care for its welfare and its international reputation.

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